The Kentucky Public Service Commission started an inquiry into the state's Universal Service Fund this month to determine whether people who receive free cellphone services need more data and minutes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The case, part of one launched on the fund in 2016, is seeking information about internet and cell phone usage from carriers that provide Lifeline services to residents, to "determine if the current state of emergency has caused Lifeline customers to consume more voice minutes and data than usual, and, if so, whether additional voice minutes and data would provide a public health benefit for the duration of the state of emergency."

Kentucky wireless carriers are authorized to receive reimbursement from the federal Universal Service Fund to give low income residents 1,000 minutes of voice service and 3 GB of data.

The PSC is seeking information about whether those companies have seen an increase in usage of voice minutes and data by Lifeline customers, the percentage of Lifeline customers who exceeded the 1,000 voice minutes available or the 3GB of data available, whether the company has been providing more data or minutes during the emergency or whether it would be willing to do so, as well as other information.

In the order, the PSC commended companies that have voluntarily expanded data for those customers already, naming TracFone and Q-Link Wireless. It notes, however, that the increases are "of limited duration...and the current state of emergency is of unknown duration."

The full case is available at, psc.ky.gov, under Case No. 2016-00059.

The Lifeline program, funded by payments on customer bills, provides a monthly discount on local wireless or landline service for people in poverty. Those who need the service apply through their telephone company by providing proof of participation in a qualifying program like Medicaid, public housing, SSI or other programs.

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